“I saw the Red Baron shot down,” he had proudly told his sons and wife in later years.
I wonder how this gentle man with dark hair, brown eyes and fair complexion from a Queensland property survived the mental anguish and horror of the Great War on the front lines and in battle at Viller-Bretonneux.
He showed no physical signs of PTSD and as far as his family knew he coped well.
Joseph signed up in the 8th reinforcement of the 41st Battalion, which was sent to Belgium and later redeployed to the 52nd Battalion to go to France to face the front lines.
This Battalion was ripped to shreds and annihilated shortly after arriving to the bitter cold and the smell of rotting food and stench of death.
The remaining few men were withdrawn and rested.
Did these men feel relief to be getting out of the front line or did they feel guilty that they were leaving new mates behind? Either way they were again re-deployed to the 13th Battalion and rushed to a new crisis near Albert. Would their luck run out?
Due to an error they were withdrawn and marched 27 km through the dark of night, guns popping in the distance, rosemary wafting through the air.
Silently marching, on full alert. They arrived to the sickening news that Pozieres, Thiepval and Albert had been captured.
They went onto fight at Villers-Bretonneux. This Battalion again was hit hard and had lost too many men. The surviving soldiers were redeployed for the final time. Their odds of survival getting less with each re-deployment.
We can’t even imagine the horror as this group of men already battle scarred were again massacred and slaughtered by the 1000’s. They would have been frightened and traumatized seeing more mates laying in the fields, screaming in pain, dying terrible deaths.
The smell of blood drenching the soil would make any person dry reach and throw up.
It makes us cry, thinking about it, these men lived it. The smell of burning bodies is something that never leaves you, and something I will never forget myself. It stays in your nostrils for days. I couldn’t imagine smelling that smell for months on end.
They fought bravely and for their mates that had fallen, they fought for their country and mother land, this was the last stand.
“The Red Baron has been shot down,” someone yells. Everyone cheers and morale is lifted. Surely the end is in sight. The men stayed and fought until the end of the war a long seven months later.
Thirteen of the original men that left Australia came home to their families and loved ones.
Joseph has left his legacy behind with three sons, one daughter, ten grandchildren, and countless great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.
We would not be here if it weren’t for these brave men.